August 12, 2015, Wednesday — Rubicon
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“The die is cast” (“Alea iacta est”) —Julius Caesar, on January 10, 49 B.C., just before dawn on the northern bank of the river Rubicon, on the Adriatic coast of northern Italy; he then began to cross the river with his troops. According to Roman law, he was not allowed to take his troops across this river, so this meant that he was breaking the law and civil war was now inevitable. The phrase “crossing the Rubicon” has survived to refer to any individual or group committing itself irrevocably to a risky or revolutionary course of action, similar to the modern phrase “passing the point of no return.” (link: Rubicon)
Suetonius was a Roman historian and biographer. He served briefly as secretary to Emperor Hadrian (emperor from 117 to 138 A.D.). His position gave him access to privileged imperial documents, correspondence and diaries upon which he based his accounts. For this reason, his descriptions are considered credible.
Suetonius’s narrative begins as Caesar, in January, 49 B.C., receives the news that his allies in the Senate have been forced to leave Rome:
“When the news came [to Ravenna, where Caesar was staying] that the interposition of the tribunes in his favor had been utterly rejected, and that they themselves had fled Rome, he immediately sent forward some cohorts, yet secretly, to prevent any suspicion of his plan; and to keep up appearances, he attended the public games and examined the model of a fencing school which he proposed building; then, as usual, sat down to table with a large company of friends.
“However, after sunset some mules from a near-by mill were put in his carriage, and he set forward on his journey as privately as possible, and with an exceedingly scanty retinue. The lights went out. He lost his way and wandered about a long time, until at last, by help of a guide, whom he discovered towards daybreak, he proceeded on foot through some narrow paths, and again reached the road. Coming up with his troops on the banks of the Rubicon, which was the frontier of his province, he halted for a while, and revolving in his mind the importance of the step he meditated, he turned to those about him, saying: ‘Still we can retreat! But once let us pass this little bridge, and nothing is left but to fight it out with arms!’
“Even as he hesitated this incident occurred. A man of strikingly noble mien and graceful aspect appeared close at hand, and played upon a pipe. To hear him not merely some shepherds, but soldiers too came flocking from their posts, and amongst them some trumpeters. He snatched a trumpet from one of them and ran to the river with it; then sounding the ‘Advance!’ with a piercing blast he crossed to the other side. At this Caesar cried out, ‘Let us go where the omens of the Gods and the crimes of our enemies summon us! The die is now cast!’
“Accordingly, he marched his army over the river; [then] he showed them the tribunes of the Plebs, who on being driven from Rome had come to meet him, and in the presence of that assembly, called on the troops to pledge him their fidelity; tears springing to his eyes [as he spoke] and his garments rent from his bosom.”
What will Pope Francis do in October?
Almost everyone in the Catholic Church is wondering what Pope Francis will do regarding the difficult issues facing the Bishops’ Synod on the Family, which will take place from October 4 to 25 in Rome.
The essential problem is apparent conflicts between three facts, three realities — three teachings of Christ:
(1) Marriage: the quite clear teaching of Christ on the indissolubility of marriage; that Christ taught that marriage is “forever,” indissoluble by its nature, is based on Christ’s own words, “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder” (Matthew 19:6) and there is a similar passage in Mark, Chapter 10, verse 9
(2) Ministry: the quite clear teaching of Christ that his disciples must minister to “the sheep” (the “shepherd” and “sheep” metaphor fills Christ’s preaching); keeping the flock together if possible, and going to seek out the one lamb out of 100 that is “lost” when necessary; always showing special love, and mercy, not just for “the righteous” (who aren’t in grave need of it) but for “sinners” (who are; see the Parable of the Prodigal Son)
(3) Reception of the Eucharist: the Pauline teaching that the sacrament of communion must be received “worthily,” that is, by those — and only by those — whose faith is orthodox and whose actions are moral, that is, by those who believe as the Church believes and who in regard to their actions are in a “state of grace”; that is, that the Eucharist, communion, is only for those Christians who, though they may have sinned (done evil), have repented, received forgiveness (absolution) and turned decisively away from (repented of) their sins
These three teachings of Christ are all so clear that none of them can be set aside without rejecting the very words and will of Christ.
And yet, life itself, especially in recent decades, has begun to pose numerous practical difficulties and perplexing situations as the Church seeks to maintain all three of these teachings in their fullness without contradiction.
Caught in the crossfire, far too often, are children.
The children are arguably the chief concern of Pope Francis.
Increasingly, it is concern for the children, for their formation as happy and healthy young people, not warped and wounded by the troubles and decisions of their elders, that is motivating Francis as he reflects on the pastoral care the Church can offer to families.
In his profound desire to be “merciful” to the children in difficult family situations, Pope Francis will have to be careful to defend the truth Christ taught, for these children — like all children and, indeed, like all of us — need the entire truth, not any partial truth.
This is the great battle Pope Francis faces in the coming days and weeks, and at the October Synod, for which he needs our prayers.
Pope Francis, and the bishops and pastors of the Church, are pondering deeply the nature and extent of the conflicts, if any, between the three teachings of Jesus mentioned above.
For the millions of couples who have divorced, and many who have remarried without annulments and started new families, pastoral care has become complicated.
It seems to many that the Church must deny, or “reinterpret,” one or more of the three teachings of Christ listed above in order to minister to people in these “problematic” situations in a caring and loving way.
It seems to many that the Church must allow some exception to the indissolubility of marriage, as the Orthodox seem to allow (by allowing second marriages after divorce), or some re-interpretation of what it means to be “in a state of grace,” in order to allow participation in the Eucharist to those persisting in second marriages following non-annulled first marriages.
All of this debate takes place against a global cultural background which has eroded the formerly Christian “ethos” of western culture.
The entire problem of the family and marriage, in this sense, has been aggravated by social, cultural, economic and even technological shifts in recent decades (for example, widespread availability of the contraceptive pill).
In other words, the rapid increase of urban centers; the rise of wage-based employment in corporations as opposed to family-based or village-based work without monetary compensation; the widespread use of artificial means of contraception; the changes in the social roles of men and women (or the decrease in the precise definition of those roles); all of these things (and many more) have created a socio-cultural-economic-technological context for marriage and families which has made what we term “traditional Christian marriage” increasingly difficult. The statistics on divorce show this clearly.
Some Catholics are quite worried. They fear Francis — who has been unpredictable during his two and a half years as Pope — will assent to a change or changes in pastoral practice implying an underlying doctrinal change, which they would have to fiercely oppose as a departure from orthodoxy.
However, on several recent occasions, Francis, or his representatives and confidants, have spoken out clearly to say there will be no doctrinal change.
(1) The Parolin Letter
First, a letter to the American Knights of Columbus on August 5, signed by the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, but written throughout as conveying the message of the Pope himself (see the full text below).
In the letter, the Pope expresses unswerving support for the traditional Christian vision of marriage as being:
(1) life-long, that is indissoluble; and
(2) between a man and a woman
Here is the critical sentence: “Elevated by the Savior to the dignity of a sacrament, marriage is, in the Creator’s plan, a natural institution, a life-long covenant of love and fidelity between a man and a woman, directed to their perfection and sanctification, and to the future of our human family. Today, when the institution of marriage is under attack from powerful cultural forces, the faithful are called to bear witness to this basic truth of biblical faith and natural law, which is essential to the wise and just ordering of society.”
(2) The Schoenborn Statement
Second, on July 31, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, Archbishop of Vienna, Austria, speaking at a gathering in California, stated on this precise point: “I am confident there will be no change in doctrine.”
(3) The Father Salvini Statement in Civilta Cattolica
“The doctrine on marriage is not at stake; the family, as an irreplaceable resource of every human society, is.”
This sentence, by Fr. Giampaolo Salvini, S.J., the former editor of La Civiltà Cattolica, is in an article Salvini wrote this summer summarizing the content of the working document (“Instrumentum laboris”) for the upcoming Synod.
Salvini also writes: “The family should feel supported and encouraged, not confronted with its limits and infidelities.”
Salvini’s article is the last in a group of three published in the July issue of the Jesuit-run magazine whose drafts are reviewed in the Secretariat of State prior to publication.
Fr. Salvini’s piece is thought to reflect closely Pope Francis’ own thought.
(4) The Pope’s August 5 Wednesday Audience
Fourth, Pope Francis himself, speaking one week ago in Rome at his Wednesday General Audience in St. Peter’s Square, defended the traditional Christian understanding of marriage.
“Today I would like to focus our attention on another reality: how to take care of those who, after an irreversible failure of their matrimonial bond, have entered into a new union,” the Pope began. He then continued: “The Church is fully aware that such a situation is contrary to the Christian Sacrament.”
Through the Eyes of the Children
In this same talk, however, Pope Francis is very clear that he does wish to change the Church’s pastoral practice especially for the sake of the children of couples in irregular relationships, because “the little ones watch.”
This is striking.
Francis evidently feels deeply the pain he knows children feel when their parents or their families are treated as “irregular” or “unusual” or “sinful” in the Church.
Here, the Pope even seems to leave open the possibility that the Church he leads will implement some sort of pastoral policy to allow couples in “new unions” to receive the Eucharist (under certain conditions to be determined).
Francis stresses the pastoral concerns the Church has for all those associated with this “new union” — and especially for the children.
On the situation of the children, he says: “If we then also look at these new bonds through the eyes of the young sons and daughters — and the little ones watch — through the eyes of the children, we are aware of a greater urgency to foster a true welcome for these families in our communities. For this reason it is important that the style of the community, its language, its attitudes, always be attentive to people, starting with the little ones. They are the ones who suffer the most in these situations.”
From these words, it seems that the Pope is intent on some change in pastoral practice. He wants the change because he wishes to be merciful, kind and loving to the children.
But defining and explaining what change this will be will necessarily be a delicate process.
In the process of defining and explaining this change, Pope Francis seems likely to arrive at a decisive crossroads, perhaps as soon as in October, where he will have to decide whether or not to cross over his own Rubicon.
Here is the text of the Cardinal Parolin letter.
Pope Thanks Knights for Defense of Marriage And Calls on American Catholics to Defend Religious Freedom
United States of America, August 05, 2015 (ZENIT.org)
Here is the text of a letter sent on Pope Francis’ behalf by his Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin. The Knights of Columbus were meeting in Philadelphia for their 133rd Supreme Convention.
* * *
Mr. Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight
The Knights of Columbus
From the Vatican, 1 August 2015
Dear Mr Anderson,
His Holiness Pope Francis has been informed that from 4 to 6 August 2015, the 133rd Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus will be held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He has asked me to convey his warm good wishes to all present, together with the assurance of his closeness in prayer.
As he prepares to visit Philadelphia next month for the Eighth World Meeting of Families, the Holy Father expresses deep appreciation for the steadfast public witness which your Order has borne to our Christian understanding of marriage and the family. Elevated by the Savior to the dignity of a sacrament, marriage is, in the Creator’s plan, a natural institution, a life-long covenant of love and fidelity between a man and a woman, directed to their perfection and sanctification, and to the future of our human family. Today, when the institution of marriage is under attack from powerful cultural forces, the faithful are called to bear witness to this basic truth of biblical faith and natural law, which is essential to the wise and just ordering of society. In meeting the moral, social and political challenges of the present hour, great wisdom and perseverance will be required of them – “the patience of the saints, who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to their faith in Jesus” (Rev 14:12).
For this reason, His Holiness trusts that the theme of this year’s Supreme Convention – Endowed by their Creator with Life and Liberty – will draw attention to the duty of American Catholics, precisely as responsible citizens, to contribute to the reasoned defense of those freedoms on which their nation was founded. The cornerstone of these is religious freedom, understood not simply as the liberty to worship as one chooses, but also, for individuals and institutions, to speak and act in accordance with the dictates of their conscience. To the extent that this right is menaced, whether by invasive public policies, or by the growing influence of a culture which sets alleged personal rights above the common good, there is need for a mobilization of consciences on the part of all those citizens who, regardless of party or creed, are concerned for the overall welfare of society. It is the Holy Father’s hope that the program of catechesis and prayer which the Knights have inaugurated in view of the forthcoming Synod on the Family and the World Meeting of Families will contribute significantly to this prophetic witness.
The protection of religious freedom must also engage the consciences of believers on the global level, in response to the attacks unleashed on minority communities, most often Christian, in various parts of our world. His Holiness is profoundly grateful for the efforts of the Knights to raise public attention to this grave humanitarian tragedy. He is likewise grateful for the practical solidarity shown to suffering individuals and families through the recently established Christian Refugee Relief Fund. He appeals once more to your Order for constant prayer, in families, parishes and the local Councils, for these, our beleaguered brothers and sisters, who strive only to be faithful to Christ. It is urgent that, from Catholics throughout the world, an unceasing sacrifice of prayer be offered for the conversion of hearts, an end to fanatical violence and intolerance, and a general recognition of those fundamental human rights which are not granted by the state, but from the hand of the Creator, whom all believers invoke as a God of peace.
Finally, the Holy Father has asked me to express his appreciation for the outstanding charitable, educational and spiritual activities with which the Knights of Columbus contribute to the Church’s mission, and to his own ministry as the Successor of Peter, charged with solicitude for all the Churches.
Commending the deliberations of the Supreme Convention to the intercession of Mary, Seat of Wisdom, the Holy Father assures all the Knights and their families of a special remembrance in his prayers. With great affection he imparts his Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of strength and peace in the Lord.
Pietro Cardinal Parolin
Secretary of State
The Schoenborn Statement
Cardinal Schönborn on the Synod: “I Am Confident There Will Be No Change in Doctrine”
The archbishop of Vienna believes that mercy must not only be extended to divorced-and-remarried Catholics, but also to the children and abandoned spouses harmed by family breakups.
by JOAN FRAWLEY DESMOND
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn is the archbishop of Vienna and the president of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference. A former student of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Cardinal Schönborn is perhaps best known as the editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. He is also a member of the Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops and will attend the ordinary synod that will be held Oct. 4-25.
On July 31, during a public appearance at the Napa Institute, he responded to questions about whether the synod might approve proposals to change Catholic doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage and Church discipline that bars divorced-and-remarried Catholics from receiving the Eucharist. Cardinal Schönborn said, “I am confident there will be no change in doctrine.”
The following day, the cardinal, who turned 70 in January, met with Register senior editor Joan Frawley Desmond to express his hopes for the synod and his belief that mercy must not only be extended to divorced-and-remarried Catholics, but also to the children and abandoned spouses harmed by family breakups. Cardinal Schönborn also reflected on his work as editor of the Catechism and recalled the intense debate that resulted in a change in Catholic teaching on capital punishment.
You have spoken of the trauma you experienced as a child when your parents divorced, and you expressed your hope that the ordinary synod not only will call for mercy for divorced-and-remarried Catholics, but also for the children who have suffered from family breakups.
Cardinal Schoenborn: It is so obvious that the first victims of divorce are always the children, because the parents are their parents. They have not only a father, but also a mother. They have a mother, but also a father. If they separate, something is always broken in the life of the child.
Therefore, I fully agree we have to speak about mercy and be merciful to the divorced and remarried, who often experience many sufferings and troubles. But before speaking about the suffering of the parents, we must speak about the suffering of the children.
I recommend catecheses that Pope Francis recently gave on the subject. On May 20, he told separated parents: “The children should not be the ones to carry the weight of this separation; they should not be used as hostages against the other spouse.”
And if we speak about mercy for those who are remarried, we must also speak about those who are left alone. Pope St. John Paul II, in Familiaris Consortio (The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World), has a very moving passage about abandoned spouses, who suffer from that situation, existentially and economically.
I always insist on the pastoral accompaniment of people who have divorced and remarried, but also those who remain alone after a divorce, very often homeless, in great economic troubles and in solitude. They need the Church’s attention.
There is a third point, which the Catechism mentions, and this is almost absent in all our discussions: the tremendous harm that divorce inflicts on our society.
Even children who don’t have divorced parents are affected by divorce. They fear their parents’ marriage could break up or that their own marriage will not last.
The Catechism mentions the negative example divorce gives: “It has a contagious effect which makes it truly a plague on society” (2385).
How many family businesses have collapsed through the divorce of the parents? What enormous economic damage comes from divorce. Therefore, I hope the synod will have very encouraging words to help Catholics overcome the temptation of divorce.
You have said that your own parents’ divorce was very painful for you. How did you recover, spiritually and emotionally?
Schoenborn: First, I have a large family network, and that is a great benefit in a family crisis. My parents were not left alone by their families, and we, the children, were not left alone by our aunts, uncles and cousins. The effect of divorce on an isolated, small family of father, mother and child is more dramatic.
Second, I had been called by Jesus very early, at age 11. When my parents’ divorce happened, I already had an intense, personal religious life, which helped me overcome the pain.
In the process, I discovered something that is extremely important. I remember, saying to my mother, in the difficult days of the divorce of my parents: “The parish is my home.” Of course that wasn’t very kind to my mother. But looking back, it shows that the parish — the Church as family — is a reality, and it can be of enormous help in overcoming the pain and separation of divorce.
As the editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, you played a critical role in the drafting process. The Catechism’s strong language opposing the death penalty, in almost every case, has led a growing number of U.S. Catholics to reject this practice. Would you speak about the discussions on this issue that took place before the publication of the Catechism?
Schoenborn: In the drafting of the Catechism, we came to the Fifth Commandment, and there were burning issues: euthanasia, suicide, war and peace, the whole question of just war. But perhaps the most intense discussions were about the death penalty.
There were two lines [of discussion] on this issue. One said the Church has always maintained that there is a fundamental right of society to defend itself against serious threats of crime and violence and that the punishment is not so much to be seen as vengeance, but the legitimate defense of society.
The second line said the death penalty has to be definitively banned, just as slavery had been banned and as other traditional forms of violence have clearly been banned by the Church.
The position of Pope John Paul II belonged to that second line. He never expressed it publicly, but as we worked on this chapter, we knew that he wanted to limit the death penalty to the maximum.
The first edition of the Catechism was not so explicit in saying that the death penalty was no longer necessary.
What caused the change in the official definitive version was that John Paul had published Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life). It includes passages where he explicitly congratulates modern societies for banning the death penalty. So in the drafting of the definitive text, the passage from Evangelium Vitae was introduced into the Catechism.
What was not introduced, to my regret, was another passage from Evangelium Vitae, which said that among the signs of a new civilization of love and a new culture of life was the worldwide tendency to definitively ban the death penalty. This passage was not included, but the central message of Evangelium Vitae is in the Catechism.
Pope St. John Paul II lived under totalitarian rule, both under the National Socialists and then under the Soviet Union. Did that experience influence his view of the death penalty?
Schoenborn: Definitely. He had seen the arbitrary application of the death penalty in the National Socialist and communist regimes. His life experience helped to form his view that the death penalty can be so easily abused and that it must be banned.
The Catechism has helped to clarify Church teaching for the faithful, especially after a period of weak and confusing religious instruction. However, people are often confused when the media selects a passage from Pope Francis’ informal comments, like “Who am I to judge?” and then claims that the Pope has discarded an element of Catholic teaching on sexual ethics. What’s your reaction to this?
Schoenborn: Isn’t what Pope Francis said in an interview on the plane coming back from World Youth Day, in fact, what Jesus said in the Gospel? Jesus said to the woman: “I do not judge you.” And during the Sermon on the Mount, he said, “Do not judge.” He did not say call good evil and evil good. Abstaining from judgment never means declaring good evil and evil good.
The evidence is that [Pope Francis’ statement] was an evangelical reaction that came directly from the Gospel. He only said, “Who am I to judge?” God is the judge. But in all Pope Francis’ teachings, he has been very clear about the homosexual partnership question.
I don’t see the problem. I see, rather, the problem for those who see it as a problem.
Has the Pope’s pastoral approach introduced something different?
Schoenborn: I think there is a deep continuity, especially with Pope Benedict XVI. I always say, “Read Pope Benedict’s address in Freiburg im Breisgau, during his 2011 trip to Germany, where he said the Church should be unworldly.” The program he outlined for a missionary Church in a secular society reads like the program of Pope Francis.
I also say, “Read the homilies of Benedict, who says that friendship with Jesus is the essence of Christianity.”
Of course Pope Francis has brought his Latin-American experience and his Jesuit and Ignatian spirituality [into his pontificate]. My impression is that, with his daily homilies and catechesis, he is conducting a kind of Ignatian retreat with the whole Church.
In Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), which is a tremendous text, he is helping us to be missionary Christians in a secular society.
From the very first pages of Evangelii Gaudium, he extends a tremendous invitation: “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ, joy is constantly born anew.”
In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis tells the faithful that they must go to the fringes and be prepared to get “dirty” and “bruised.” Has he stirred us out of our complacency?
Schoenborn: Very often Pope Francis says, “I prefer a Church that goes out than one that is self-centered and insulated.”
Certainly the recent immigration crisis in Europe poses a great challenge to the political leadership and to the Church. But you have also said that the Catholic Church in Vienna has benefited from immigration.
Schoenborn: We have greatly benefited from the Catholic immigrants who bring a fresh dynamism, a new élan to the Church in Austria. We have Polish, Filipino, Indian and African immigrants, and we are very grateful for their presence. The non-Catholic immigrants from Orthodox Churches have also renewed our Christian culture.
There is also Muslim immigration: Thousands of Turks came to Austria in the ’60s and ’70s. Now, there is a second generation of Muslim immigrants living in Austria, and many of them are in the middle of an Islamic revival. We have a growing problem of Islamic integration — or non-integration — in the country.
Finally, there is a new phenomenon that is totally unexpected: a huge wave, like a tsunami, coming into Europe from the Middle East and Africa. This year, our little country of Austria expects 80,000 refugees coming from Africa, the Middle East, Syria and Ukraine. This is the consequence of conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, a quasi-civil war in Sudan and Somalia, the Eritrean conflict and the climate disaster in the Sahel Zone in Africa.
There has been a lot of discussion about how to respond to this challenge. The politicians say the Church must do more. They say that because they want to distract from their own helplessness.
The Church does a lot. About 5,000 refugees are in all kinds of ecclesial institutions; these are about 10% of all refugees in Austria. But if this crisis continues, we don’t know how we will be able to address it.
Recent media coverage of the upcoming Ordinary Synod of Bishops on Marriage and the Family has given the impression that some bishops from northern Europe may challenge Church teaching on marriage and provoke conflicts with other bishops who want Catholic doctrine and pastoral practice on marriage to remain as it is. Is this a fair characterization, or would you like to correct the record?
Schoenborn: The European Churches are not a bloc. There are very different situations in each European country. Many Polish bishops may not have exactly the same view as many German bishops. But, generally, I have the impression that we are victims of the typical media necessity of putting everything in black and white. There are no nuances.
I think it is necessary and healthy that all these questions on marriage and family are discussed openly and honestly. We should not be afraid of this.
But I am also convinced that the positions present in the synod are not so wide apart as the media suggests.
You are hopeful?
Schoenborn: I am very hopeful.
First, I believe the Lord is present, as he promised, when two or three are gathered in his name. I don’t believe the Holy Spirit is on holiday leave during the synod. Finally, I believe the role of the Holy Father is to be the focus of unity. He is the expression of the Church’s unity.
Therefore, cum Petro et sub Petro — with Peter and under Peter — the synod will take a good path.
Remember that the disputes of the first synod in the history of the Church that took place in Jerusalem — the so-called Council of the Apostles — involved a tremendous and very harsh debate. But it ended with a great unity. The life of the Church today is still inspired by the decisions of the Council of Jerusalem.
The Salvini Statement, In a Commentary by Italian Journalist Andrea Gagliarducci
Synod of Bishops: Which position will the Pope take?
by ANDREA GAGLIARDUCCI
August 3, 2015
“The doctrine on marriage is not at stake; the family, as an irreplaceable resource of every human society, is.” Fr. Giampaolo Salvini, a former director of La Civiltà Cattolica, stated this in an article he wrote summarizing the working document (“instrumentum laboris”) of the upcoming Synod. The article is the last in a series of three published in the latest issue of the Jesuit-run magazine whose drafts are reviewed in the Secretariat of State prior to publication. Of the three articles, Fr. Salvini’s piece did not grab much attention, even though it is probably the one closest to Pope Francis’ thought.
La Civiltà Cattolica thus wades (again) into discussion about the Synod. The editor-in-chief of the magazine is Fr. Antonio Spadaro, very close to Pope Francis and considered by the Pope as one of those who best interprets his thought. It is often suggested that he will become an official of the Vatican’s communications secretariat, eventually director of the Holy See Press Office that will probably be restructured.
In the meantime, Fr. Spadaro works tirelessly. During the last Synod, he was a contributor to some of the key texts. He was part of the commission established to compose the Synod’s final message, but it is also rumored that he introduced some changes to the controversial mid-term report (the Pope wanted to handle it personally together with some of his closest collaborators before Cardinal Peter Erdo presented it), and to the Synod’s Final Report.
This is the reason why La Civiltà Cattolica’s editorial choices must be considered attentively. Pope Francis’ thought may be read in a nutshell through the magazine’s articles, because the Pope is a Jesuit and because he trusts the way Fr. Spadaro broadcasts his message. It is noteworthy that the three articles in the latest issue are dedicated to Synod’s main topics, as if there were a need to discuss them anew and to balance some earlier positions.
Out of the three articles, the interview that the Emeritus Theologian of the Pontifical Household, Cardinal Georges Cottier, granted to Fr. Antonio Spadaro grabbed most of the attention. The tone of discussion is also set by the other two articles. The first, by the Jesuit Mario Imperatori, is about “Marriage and Faith Today: A Rediscovery of God’s primacy.” The second, titled “Toward the Synod: The Working Document” is Fr. Salvini’s analysis of the Synod’s working document.
This latter is a good starting point. Fr. Salvini presented it as a summary of the working document, but the article goes beyond that, and makes some interesting points. Fr. Salvini opined that the working document observes in some cases points on which common agreement was found among the Synod Fathers, and he suggests that those points should remain as they are. However, “there are many other issues at stake, though no way out of them is indicated.”
Among these is “the issue of the cohabitation of men and women who, although they could do so, do not want to marry, but who also do not want to distance themselves from the Church.”
Fr. Salvini conceded that the problems that families face are all present in the working document, though “not all of them are equally developed.” He explained that the document “is not a theological-pastoral treatise, but rather a series of suggestions, hints, stimuli full of anxieties, but also full of hope.” In the end, “the doctrine of marriage is not at stake, but the family, as an irreplaceable source of every human society, is.”
Fr. Salvini then noticed that the document has some gaps. For example, he underscored that the family “is seemingly mostly viewed from the point of view of adult and parents, and that little is seen from the children’s angle, though the document speaks a lot about children, saying that they need to be educated, protected from family tensions, from a modern mentality, etc.”
Fr. Salvini added that “it is adults who are always addressed, not children, except to remind them they have to take care of their parents in their old age. But this should be said to adult children of older parents, not to teenagers.”
The Jesuit priest also emphasized that “just a short mention is given to the prickly problem of contraception, as well as to the issue of the presence of the women in the Church, including their economic emancipation and their participation in the education of priests, about which the working document dedicates just a few lines.”
How is the issue of mercy part of this framework? Fr. Salvini indicated that the document “does not demonize, nor forcefully warn about, some problematic aspects of modern life, though it highlights them. It mostly seeks to evangelize them.” Thus, “the family should feel supported and encouraged, not confronted with its limits and infidelities.” This point illustrates the continual call for mercy in the document.
In this way Fr. Salvini returns the balance to a discussion that seemed previously to be confused by a polarization between mercy and doctrine, as if a choice had to be made between one and the other. This polarization is resolved in the interview with Cardinal Cottier.
That La Civiltà Cattolica chose Cardinal Cottier is not by chance. He was the Theologian of the Pontifical Household and close to Joseph Ratzinger when he served on the International Theological Commission. Speaking to him thus demonstrates a continuity with the previous Magisterium. That the interview was strongly endorsed is shown by the fact that Vatican media highlighted it.
In the interview, Cardinal Cottier evoked the previous Magisterium, and recalled that St. John Paul II had established Divine Mercy Sunday. In the end Cottier mostly grabbed his notions from Dives in Misericordia, the encyclical on mercy of the late now-canonized Pope.
Cottier emphasized, “Mercy is doctrine. It is the heart of Christian doctrine.”
“Only a narrow-minded person can defend legalism and see mercy and doctrine as two different things.” He then added that nowadays, the Church “understands that no one, whatever his position is, should be left alone. We have to guide people, the righteous and sinners.”
The Cardinal affirmed, “I am convinced that today, in a particular way, it is the duty of divine things to protect human things and to give them life. Instead of retrenching behind fortified works, Christians should be profoundly involved in the world, counting on the strength of God, that is, the strength of love and truth. Divine things will save human things. The human tools of defending civilization will become always less adequate when faced with the gravity of the crisis of culture.”
As far as the upcoming Synod on the family is concerned, the Cardinal hopes for a new pastoral activity that “meets the gravity of the crisis” because the “current practice has become insufficient.” The Cardinal also reflected on wounded families, on “the divorced and remarried,” on children “victims of their parents’ divorce.” From the pastoral point of view, Cardinal Cottier said that “the existential coordination of people’s spiritual lives must be respected. In rigorism there lies a brutality that is opposed to the gentleness through which God guides every person.” Cottier also offered concrete examples of different types of divorced and remarried Catholics, emphasized that generalizing their condition does not reflect the different situations in which they find themselves, and invited pastors to consider each case individually.
In the end no changes in doctrine are envisaged. The emphasis given to mercy – which the same La Civiltà Cattolica headline suggests – does not lead to changing the cards on the table. It simply indicates an attention to the pastoral care that the Church is already putting into action.
The same agenda can be observed in Fr. Imperatori’s article. He describes marriage as “a problematic sacrament at the border,” whose pastoral praxis “is substantially that fixed by the Council of Trent.” According to Imperatori, this Tridentine framework means that “too often” nature and grace “were conceived as juxtaposed and parallel planes, and redemption was even considered as an elevation of nature to a supernatural plane to which nature was in the end foreign.”
Imperatori also highlights the problem of the canonical debate on marriage that he believes has focused on the freedom of the individual spouses to contract marriage, a focus that has “too often set aside” the theological dimension of the sacrament.
Imperatori does not in the end propose discounting doctrine for the sake of a pastoral approach. He instead proposes a more comprehensive understanding based on God’s centrality. He calls this approach a “re-harmonization of the pastoral and the doctrinal,” and he warns about a too rigorous approach which “risks secularizing Christian marriage.”
Imperatori also writes about the postmodern discovery of “Eros”, about which he says, “the rediscovery of feelings and the importance of relations must be valued,” while at the same time, “the contractualist, libertarian and emotional vision of the marriage contract must be rejected, as it gives life to the well-known phenomenon of liquid love.”
Imperatori’s goal in the end is not to lose sight of the relations with God, since pastoral challenges represent the transmission of faith. One of his proposals concerns marriage preparation courses that must be “thought about and put into practice from an evangelizing perspective, as an easy path to discernment that the Christian community can offer to those who have already started a to live together as a couple so that this discernment process is adapted to the time required for their maturation and willed consent.”
Pope Francis’ intentions and thoughts are probably well reflected in these three articles. We must not get trapped in the notion of a pastoral care based merely on mercy, as Pope Francis has clearly indicated when speaking about the family. The Pope has often referred to ideological colonization, has attacked gender ideology and has defended natural marriage.
There are those who promoted an agenda labeled “mercy” behind Pope Francis’ back. But if everything is lop-sided in favor of this agenda, there is the risk that truth can be lost from sight, and that everything becomes relativized. Many Synod Fathers saw this risk emerge during the 2014 Synod debate, and asked for a more rigorous theological approach.
In the end, where will the Pope stand? Will he be able to balance true mercy and doctrine, or will he be dragged into the agenda labeled “mercy”?
Note: For those who would like to travel with us on pilgrimage:
On December 8, 2015, and again on November 20, 2016, we will be in Rome when Pope Francis opens the Holy Door to begin the Special Jubilee Year of Mercy, and when he closes the door to end the Jubilee Year. If you would like to join us on one or more of these pilgrimages, email now for more information…
We also often travel to Norcia, in central Italy, where there is a flourishing Benedictine monastery we visit.
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What is the glory of God?
“The glory of God is man alive; but the life of man is the vision of God.” —St. Irenaeus of Lyons, in the territory of France, in his great work Against All Heresies, written c. 180 A.D.